Connecticut's own Mile Marker Zero is: Dave Alley - vox, John Tuohy - electric and acoustic guitars, Mark Focarile - keyboards, Tim Rykoski - bass, Doug Alley - drums. Their self-titled disc is a strong mix of rock and prog with fine solos balancing top notch songwriting. Progsheet secretly sequestered John Tuohy and Mark Focarile and had them take us track by track...
Track 1: A Thousand Nights
JT: MMZ has this duality to our music. We have the hard rock side of us as well as a progressive side. We enjoy writing for both styles equally, and we always strive to strike a balance between songs that are more straight ahead, and songs that are more experimental. In choosing a lead off song of our album Mile Marker Zero, we wanted something that could draw listeners from both sides of the track in. A Thousand Nights has a huge chorus that was very exciting to us when we wrote it, and even more exciting the first time we heard on the great big studio monitors at Applehead Studios! Also, it features the piano extensively in the verses and choruses, which adds another dimension to the song. This song sets the stage for the rest of the album.
MF: A Thousand Nights was the most radio single song that we've had at this point in our careers: not only for the length, but in the approach as well. It was pretty clear early on in the writing process that this was a song that we should try to be straight forward with. Songs tend to write themselves, and we didn't feel we had to expand too much on the ideas. It was also written fairly quickly. It can take us awhile to write songs, but this one flowed out of us very rapidly. There are a lot of Muse and Porcupine Tree influences in it, and the huge chorus is one of the most anthemic we've ever had.
Track 2: Laceration
JT: Laceration holds a special place in my mind for not only the band, but for myself. I wrote the lyrics about a good friend of mine who got in a near-fatal motorcycle crash. The song is about dealing with a crisis like this, and the emotions that something this intense elicits. The lyrics follow not only the accident but the aftermath ,as well as how I was dealing with the incident psychologically.
Musically, this song really shows what Mile Marker Zero is all about. We have a brutal guitar riff in the intro which gives way to an energetic verse (with a really cool drum groove!) and transitions into a melodic chorus which introduces an acoustic guitar and sensitive vocals. And this is all within the first 1/3 of the track! This song pulls out all the stops for us; catchy vocal lines, heavy riffs, lots of organ /piano/ strings, half times, double times, a frenetic bridge, and a breakdown at the end. We wanted to fit all of what we do into a single song, that hopefully is radio friendly, and prog-accessible!
MF: This song attracted the ears of producer Michael Birnbaum at Applehead Studios in NY. He's worked with artists like Coheed and Cambria, King Crimson, and John Mayer, so it gave us the unique opportunity for an industry veteran to mix our album. The song was written to have a constant back and forth in the dynamics and approach. In one section we're full volume with distorted guitars soaring vocals, and full on Hammond organ. But in the next section, there are acoustic guitars, sweet singing, and a laid back feel. One of my favorite parts of the song is Dave's Chris Cornell-like vocals in the bridge.
Track 3: A Kiss to Fix
JT: A Kiss to Fix was originally conceived as a way to bridge a Pink Floyd-ian chorus and an aggressive verse. I really enjoy playing the first verse of the song, as it is a very challenging guitar part to pull off correctly! Also, I love improvising, whether it's live or in the studio. The risk you take is one of sounding bad, and not getting your ideas across well. The payoff is when you reach deep down and something beautiful comes out that you didn't know you had in you. I was very lucky when it came to the solo in the outro of the song. I think I recorded about five solos at the end, and the one that is on the record is the second run through. I thought it had this very Van Halen meets John McLaughlin vibe to it, and the band felt that it helped complete the song. We've never had a "fading guitar solo" at the end of a song, and this was a perfect place to implement it.
MF: A Kiss to Fix began sounding like Yes / Pink Floyd hybrid, but ended up sounding much more aggressive. We sped up the tempo, experimented with odd metered riffs and brought in lyrics about drug and supplement abuse. The open sounding chorus creates a nice texture change from the frantic verses. The music mimics the emotions of an addict ranging from swirling bliss, to frenetic anxiousness. John takes a great solo at the end over vocals that always reminds me of Stone Temple Pilots.
Track 4: Passive
JT: This is one of Dave's gems. This song helps pace the album, after 3 very fast energetic tracks. The song is very simple and heartfelt, with a great chord progression and vivid lyrics. This song shows the "soft side" of MMZ.
MF: Dave has always has what I like to think of as the "Greg Lake" songs. In ELP, Greg's songs were always a big contrast to the bigger, more expansive pieces, and helped create a nice contrast on their albums and in concert. This piece gave me a chance to create some interesting keyboard textures. While the melodic piano solo and string layers made really lush sounds for later in the song, I love just holding the one organ note throughout the second verse. When we were writing the song, I tried to emulate the approach of an artist like Beck or Moby who will have lo-fi sounding keyboard sounds play very simply in the background to create a cool effect.
Track 5: Crimson Red
JT: This is the first part of a concept song that is called The Burning Ground. This song is more like classic progressive rock in the way that we approach playing it. I have a long solo in the middle, after Mark's great piano feature. This is always my favorite song to play live, and it always seems to "bring down the house". I think audiences really enjoy getting into the heat of the moment, and coming along with the musicians in the musical journey that can happen during improvisation.
One of the more challenging things for me in this song was coming up with and performing the flowing melodic guitar line in the first chorus. The chord progression has a very classical sounding structure, and I wanted to hear a part that floats melodically over the whole section. I was envisioning something similar to what Avenged Sevenfold's guitar players would do.
MF: 9 times out of 10 we close with Crimson Red live. We knew it was going to be difficult to record because of the emotional high that was created from the live performance of this song. This song much like A Thousand Nights also wrote itself very easily, but obviously this one came out much different. When we were writing, we knew we wanted to experiment and expand on the musical ideas, but try to bring as many of the parts back to be used again. We like to have our material come full circle as much as possible, and Crimson Red is a perfect example. The vocal and guitar melodies make its way to the keyboards and vice versa. I love playing the challenging piano solo and then coming way down to be a lush texture behind John's great guitar solo. The combination of the string machine and Moog Taurus pedals makes the solo section sound like Rush's La Villa Strangiato (being in the same key doesn't hurt either). The ending sequence is one of the best, most impactful endings we've ever written, and I love watching the audience's look of surprise when they hear it for the first time.
Track 6: Maree/In Loving Memory Of…
JT: Maree is a guitar interlude which transitions its way into In Loving Memory Of… which is the most classic rock sounding song out of our whole album. This song also showcases what the band does best: Deliver a very powerful message, as the music ebbs and flows from one dynamic to another. I think that Dave's vocals in this song are particularly compelling and beautiful, and the song concludes differently than it started, making this song equally as powerful as Crimson Red but with a more classic feel. The solo in this song is what I call my Joe Walsh / Slash mode, which seems to come out when I solo over a progression like this.
MF: After John's transitional guitar piece, the next part of The Burning Ground is the most overtly "Classic Rock" sounding piece that we've done to this point. I detuned my piano slightly to have a more bluesy/southern rock sound, and tried to emulate Billy Powell in my approach. You could almost split this song down the middle: from the before the guitar solo and after the guitar solo. The first part is almost like a hymn, where the second part is a little dirtier, and drives the song towards the ending. The last chorus of the song almost outdoes Crimson Red in sheer size and feeling, and brings this part of The Burning Ground to a perfect ending. I love how we left the track on the album with some of the noises and harmonics that were originally there from holding out the ending.
Track 7: Peril Aerial
JT: This song showcases the "dark side" of MMZ. This song is the longest, and most in depth song on the album, which invokes shades of some modern metal bands. Mark is usually responsible for the core of our songs in this vein, and this song is no exception. This is perhaps the most powerful sonically assaulting song on the album. This song evokes a feeling of uneasiness and iciness, hence our working title for the song Dark, Cold, And Trembling. This is definitely the most difficult song to play for me, with two solos and a challenging bridge. I liked the fact that for the first solo, because of the subject matter, I was able to use a bunch of dissonance and rarely utilized scales, while still retaining the melodic flavor of the song.
MF: The title Peril Aerial means "death from above" and was written loosely on The Amityville Horror. It's about a man stuck in a huge, cold house feeling the spirits of the house overtake him and change his personality. He hears the whispers of people who inhabited the house before him, and he struggle throughout the song to break away from them. I was inspired by Opeth's The Drapery Falls particularly in the opening section as well as in the bridge. I used a lot of mellotron in this song to give a haunting, almost gothic feel to the keyboard textures. For the longest time, we couldn't find an ending that really brought the song to a strong conclusion, until I came across another Opeth song entitled When which gave me the idea to have the bright sounding final chorus. It gave the song an almost hopeful feel after 8 minutes of dread where you wonder if the character has been able to move on from the house, until the last pounding chords emulate the sounding of the door closing him in.
Track 8: Reaping Tide
JT: This might be the most "proggy" song on the record. This song has the most time signature changes and features the most frenetic pace of anything on the record. Mark and I get to play a little "Bach-like" two part invention in the second verse which adds to the kind of seeming disorder of the song. This song evokes flavors of Tool, or A Perfect Circle. Our fans really seem to get pumped up when we play this song live, because of how energetic it is.
MF: Reaping Tide perfectly sums up everything Mile Marker Zero does in one song. It has driving riffs, great vocal melodies, intricate instrumentals, lush textures, time changes, and an ending that takes the listener by surprise. The ending to this song ranks right up with Crimson Red as one of the best endings we've ever done. We were pretty lucky to come up with so many unique endings on this album. This song is Dave's view on the apocalypse and the cause and effect of everything going on the modern world. The lyrics don't single out any specific event which allows the listener to take a unique view on the song each time they listen to it.
Track 9: Hush
JT: This song is a great way to end a high-energy album. This is the only full-fledged ballad on the album, and it brings a close to the stories therein. I think the lyrics in the song are absolutely heart-wrenching; some of Dave's best work to date. Mark plays a very emotional solo, and we really get to hear his superb musicianship shine through. MMZ is not afraid to try out many different feelings and layers across an album, and this is the most vulnerable of all of them.
MF: Hush is a perfect album closer which is really a duet between Dave and I. We only used acoustic guitar, echoey piano, and Taurus pedals to give a subtle bottom end. It has a beautiful haunting melody, and let me open up for a classically influenced piano solo to close out the album. Though not connected to The Burning Ground, I brought back one of the main melodies to bring the album full circle.